Saints vs. 49ers: A Rivalry That Ain’t Dead Yet

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Jan 14, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner(31) hits New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, 36-32. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmonson-US PRESSWIRE

On Sunday, the suddenly surging New Orleans Saints travel to the West Coast to renew a ‘forgotten’ rivalry.

The Saints have had a few intriguing rivalries in their 50 year history. There’s Atlanta of course, and an underrated rivalry that has developed in recent years with Carolina.

But for any Saints fan under the age of 35, just ask your parents about the San Francisco 49ers, sit back and listen to the rage those words may cause (and perhaps quickly duck out of the way, just in case they are holding something in their hands).  My children for instance, have gotten a narrowed-eyes reaction that silently screams: “I HATE THE 49ERS”

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That’s because from 1970-2001, the Saints and 49ers played each other twice a year as divisional foes within the “old version” of the NFC West; which for most of those years also included the Los Angeles/St Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons, (and starting in 1995) the Carolina Panthers.

The rivalry was essentially ended when the NFL re-alinged all of its divisions geographically in time for the 2002 season, which then put the Saints, Atlanta, and Carolina together with Tampa Bay — who had been previously a part of the NFC’s now-defunct Central Division (Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay) — into a new division called the NFC South.

Before division realignment, the rivalry with the 49ers was pretty one-sided, which is why the overall series between the two teams has San Francisco holding a 47-25-2 all-time advantage.

What has made the series so unique are the unbelievable moments and polarizing figures that have associated with it.

And it’s because of that history of those unforgettable match-ups, that for some Saints fans — especially the older ones — that this rivalry is far from being over, in their eyes.

In a particular anguishing period for New Orleans starting from 1980 (49ers QB Joe Montana’s rookie season) and stretching all the way to division realignment in 2002, some of the games themselves resembled the raw emotion and brutality of the Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier boxing matches of the 1970’s.

The rivalry became that intense, and for many a Saints fan and especially the older ones, it still holds many memories.

This morning, we’re looking at a few of the most memorable — beginning with the one that epitomized the rivalry the most:…..